Wine with Indian food?

Among Asian cuisines, Indian food probably has the greatest confusion associated with wine pairing. Its complex layering of spices and heat makes it a bit tricky. If you ask most people which wine to pair with Indian food, expect a one-word answer, Gewurztraminer. We think it’s ridiculous to pair an entire culture's cuisine with a single varietal. Think about the sauce. The common perception of “white wine with white meat and red wine with red meat” doesn’t carry much weight, especially with a cuisine as flavorful as Indian food. Consider the main ingredients in sauces when choosing a wine. Northern Indian spice mixes can be cooked in a base such as yogurt or light cream, while Southern Indian masalas are sometimes cooked with coconut milk. There are also bridge ingredients in sauces like acid enhancing tomato or tamarind juice and fresh ginger, garlic, chilies, and onions, which can really intensify the flavors.

General Tips:

Spicy food goes well with wine that is less tannic. Tannic wines can fuel the fire of spicy dishes. Highly tannic red varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo can be difficult to enjoy with spicy food. If you are a red wine lover, try something lower in tannins, such as Pinot Noir, Barbera, Beaujolais, or Grenache/Garnacha. You can even chill these reds in the fridge for 15-20 minutes to make the alcohol content less apparent and the wine more refreshing. 

Stick with lower alcohol wines. More alcohol tends to magnify the heat in a dish and steamroll over flavors. 

Less oak is better in both red and white wines, although some aging in old oak barrels can provide a silky texture to whites that match well with rich sauces. Also, in some dishes where coriander is distinctly present, a more oaky wine like a Rioja or Merlot based wine can work well.

Acidity is important, but too much can be jarring, unless it's balanced by another element in the wine that makes the texture more lush. 

Residual sugar in wine will offset spiciness. A white wine with a hint of sweetness, such as an off-dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer, or a demi-sec Champagne or sparkling wine pair well with spicy dishes. The sugar will tame the heat and quench the fire of the dish making it easier to return for another bite.

Don’t underestimate the food-friendliness of sparkling wine. Often selected only for special occasions, bubbly is a fantastic choice with a variety of foods as it can cut the richness of curries and help to refresh the palate.

The most versatile wine partners…

The most versatile wine partners seem to be aromatic white wines with lovely tropical fruit flavors. The wines balance bright acidity with lush texture.

Pinot Blanc, in particular, matches very well with Indian food. Often Pinot Blanc shows little overt fruit and a rounder texture, which can be a liability for certain foods, but with Indian food, those characteristics prove to be an asset.

Gewurztraminer is exotically aromatic with flavors of cinnamon, ginger, lychee, and spiced pear. These wines can complement a variety of curries whether it’s Indian, Thai or Burmese.

Kerner is a white wine bred from a black grape (Trollinger/Schiava) and a green grape (Riesling). It is similar to Riesling, but it has slightly less elevated aromas and a broader mouth feel than Riesling. Kerner pairs well in any situation where there is spicy and/or spicy sweet food.

Riesling can be dry, off-dry, or sweet so it’s important to know the style of the wine when pairing it with a dish. In our experience, dry to slightly off-dry wines work best. Riesling tends to have strong acidity, which provides great support to its aromatic expression of ripe tropical fruit flavors.

2010 Local Wine Murphy's Law Riesling $14.99

2011 Meulenhof Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett   $17.99

2011 Brooks Wine Gewurztraminer, Oak Ridge Vineyard $17.99

2010 Valle Isarco Kerner $18.99

2010 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Blanc $22.99

Types of dishes & What works...

Tomato based dishes require wines with plenty of acid, though not as their defining trait. Reds should be fruity and relatively light and white wines should be rounder and silky with a hint of sweetness. A dry Rosé works quite well.

Suggested Pairings:

2011 Bergerie de l'Hortus Rosé, Pic St. Loup $14.99 

NV Drusian Extra Dry Spumante Rosé, Rosé Mari $18.99

2010 Marcarini Barbera d'Alba Ciabot Camerano $17.99

2011 Bishop's Peak Pinot Noir, Central Coast $18.99

2010 Dominique Piron Morgon Cote de Py $23.99 

Cream based sauces. Be careful with cream and red wine as cream can make a red wine seem flat and flabby. A lighter red can work with dishes that have a light cream sauce, but if the sauce is creamier, turn to a higher-acid white.

Suggested Pairings - Light Cream:

2010 Dominique Piron Morgon Cote de Py $23.99 

2011 Bishop's Peak Pinot Noir, Central Coast $18.99

Suggested Pairings - Creamy:

2010 Local Wine Murphy's Law Riesling $14.99

2011 La Capuccina Soave $15.99

NV Drusian Extra Dry Spumante Rose Rose Mari 18.99

Green based dishes like Saag paneer or green fish curry invariably go well with white wines regardless of the protein. Look for white wines with more green fruit, grassy or herbal flavors,  and a leaner texture. Avoid oak.

Suggested Pairings:

2011 Schloss Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner Gobelsburger $15.99

2011 La Capuccina Soave $15.99

2011 Leitz Rüdesheimer Riesling "3" QbA trocken $17.99

2011 Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden Sullivan-Steele Sauvignon Blanc $19.99